FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Jeremy Sprinkle called playing alongside Hunter Henry last season “a great honor,” and added that he learned a lot from the 2015 John Mackey Award winner.
Now, it’s Sprinkle’s turn to be Arkansas’ No. 1 tight end, and his incredibly productive season playing second fiddle to Henry has lots of people buzzing about Sprinkle’s potential. Earlier this month, he was named to the 2016 Mackey Award watch list.
“(He is) ready to make his mark,” said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. “He can be a Mackey Award winner. He’s got that much talent.”
Between D.J. Williams in 2010 and Henry last year, Arkansas is the only program with two Mackey winners. Henry became a second-round NFL Draft pick a couple months ago, leaving Sprinkle atop the depth chart in one of the Razorback offense’s most important positions.
Sprinkle becomes even more important this season because of the sheer lack of additional experience returning for the Hogs in 2016. Arkansas must replace star running back Alex Collins and three offensive linemen.
Oh, and also gone is longtime starting quarterback Brandon Allen, who will be replaced this season by his younger brother Austin.
“I feel like Austin has been developing really well,” Sprinkle said. “I see a lot of things that I saw in Brandon with his improvement over the spring.
“It’ll be fun to see him come in and succeed.”
Tight ends are famously good security blankets for quarterbacks, and Sprinkle — who caught six touchdown passes last season — should be no exception. Along with a bevy of experienced, talented wide receivers returning, Austin Allen should have plenty of good targets in the passing game.
Still, one of the reasons that tight ends are so valuable in Bielema’s offenses is that he likes to play with two of them. And that has become the big question: Who will be Sprinkle’s No. 2?
Sophomore Jack Kraus and redshirt freshmen Jamario Bell, Austin Cantrell, Will Gragg and C.J. O’Grady are all options, but none of them have any major college football experience.
“Honestly, it’s more of the coach’s job to figure that out,” Sprinkle said, “but some people have stepped up over the summer and I’m sure that someone during fall camp will emerge.”